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Full text of "A story about a real man"

116

B. POLEVOI

this, but he at once caught the sinister meaning of the
jest. He did not take offence, however; he merely looked
at Kukushkin in surprise and inquired:

"And how old are you, my friend? Ah, greybeard, grey-
beard! You seem to have aged rather early!"

The appearance in ward number forty-two of the new
patient, the Commissar, as they called him among them-
selves, changed the entire life of the ward. By the second
day of his presence in it, this heavy and seriously
wounded man had made friends with them all and, as
Stepan Ivanovich put it later, had managed "to find a key
to fit each one's heart".
With Stepan Ivanovich he talked to his heart's content
about horses and hunting, of which both were very fond,
and on which both were experts. With Meresyev, who
was fond of philosophising about war, he argued vigorous-
ly about present-day methods of employing aircraft,
tanks and cavalry, and tried to prove, not without
some heat, that while, of course, aircraft and tanks were
very useful, the horse was not obsolete and would yet
demonstrate its usefulness, and that if the cavalry were
well remounted, and supported by tanks and artillery,
and if a large number of bold and intelligent young
officers were trained to assist the old veteran command-
ers, our cavalry would yet surprise the world. He even
found subjects for conversation with the silent tankman.
It turned out that the division in which he had served as
Commissar had fought at Yartsevo and later had taken
part in General Konev's counter-attack at Dukhov-
shchina, where the tankman and his group had broken
through the German lines. And the Commissar enthusiast-
ically enumerated the villages they both knew, related
how hot they had made it for the Germans, and where.
The tankman kept silent, as usual, but he did not turn his
head away when spoken to as he had done hitherto. His
face could not be seen because of the bandages, but he
nodded his head in agreement. Kukushkin's anger was
converted^ into good humour the moment the Commissar
invited him to play a game of chess. The chess-board